Issue 4, September 2010

Issue 4, September 2010

Active Living Research News

Grantee Studies

Kelly Evenson and colleagues published a study investigating the spatial clustering of multiple health-related resources (e.g. supermarkets, retail areas, parks, and recreational facilities) in New York City, Baltimore, MD, and Winston-Salem, N.C.  Findings show that African Americans tended to live in areas with the lowest concentrations of health-related resources.

Lois Brink and colleagues published a study assessing whether improvements to inner-city schoolyards in Denver, Colo., led to increased physical activity among children. Their results show that students at schools with renovated schoolyards were significantly more active, and that renovations including certain features, such as soft play surfaces, saw especially higher levels of activity.

Robin Moore and Nilda Cosco published a chapter in a new book that explores how landscapes can support healthy living and suggests how research can better inform policy and practice in health promotion. Their chapter features their ALR-funded study of 25 parks in Durham, N.C., that examined how certain neighborhood park characteristics contribute to children’s physical activity. The full book is called Innovative Approaches to Researching Landscape and Health; their chapter is titled: Using behaviour mapping to investigate healthy outdoor environments for children and families: Conceptual framework, procedures, and applications.

Amy Ries and colleagues published a study identifying environmental barriers to and facilitators of physical activity among urban African-American adolescents in Baltimore, Md. Their results show that social environmental factors such as crime, violence and drugs are the strongest barriers to physical activity among young women. For young men, barriers such as lack of transportation, poor finances and parental influences (e.g. curfew; taking care of siblings; parents’ concerns about safety) were just as important. Social support was the strongest facilitator of physical activity for young men and women, although the presence of neighborhood locations for activity also played a role.

A recent study published by Kim Reynolds and colleagues examines individual and environmental determinants of urban trail use in Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles. The researchers found that intrinsic motivation, general health status, perceived trail safety, perceived miles between home and trail, and neighborhood connectivity were significantly and positively related to how likely people were to use a trail, and to how much they used it. Working-class status, commuting distance, and physical barriers to the trail were negatively related to usage.

A recent study conducted in California by Kristine Madsen and colleagues investigated trends in overweight and obesity rates among fifth-, seventh-, and ninth-grade students, as well as racial and ethnic disparities in those rates. They found that, although obesity rates are declining for white and Asian children, they continue to increase among American Indian and African-American girls. The study received substantial media coverage, appearing in national and local outlets, including Businessweek, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times.

Phil Troped’s study has received a significant amount of media attention, including in the outlets Bio-Medicine, Chiropractic News and LabSpaces.  The study used small activity monitors and GPS devices to determine several characteristics of physical activity, notably where it occurs. Most moderate to vigorous physical activity took place more than one kilometer away from people’s homes. But within one kilometer of their homes, people were more active in areas with higher residential density, more street connectivity, and a greater land use mix.

Grantee Highlights

Kristine Madsen helped inform the May 2010 report Playing Well: Organized Sports and the Health of Children and Youth, published by Team-Up for Youth.  The report shows that participating in high-quality after-school sports can help improve young people’s physical and mental health. Key benefits include healthier body composition, reduced weight gain, and increased self-esteem.  Amanda Wilson, ALR research coordinator, also participated in a convening that informed this report.

Angie Cradock and Noreen McDonald presented at the Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2010 Conference in Chattanooga, Tenn., on September 16.  The session, Federal Funding for Pedestrian & Bicycle Programs:  What the Research Tells Us, identified how practitioners can use research on walking and biking programs to better understand the allocation of federal funding for non-motorized transportation, and to improve the design of Safe Routes to School programs.  ALR research coordinator Chad Spoon moderated the panel.

Policy and Practice Impact Spotlight

Jonathan Finkelstein and Sara Benjamin recently published a study on the impact of a new Massachusetts regulation that requires 60 minutes of physical activity for all children in child care centers. Their findings have generated interest from several other states considering similar policies. For example, following a presentation Dr. Benjamin made to North Carolina’s general assembly in February, that state passed a new policy that took effect on July 1.  Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin also are considering such policies.  Dr. Benjamin also received a CDC subcontract to develop a guide for states on how to enact such policy changes, and was invited to serve on the IOM Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention.

The Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP) is partnering with ALR to provide consultation and technical assistance to three tribal communities (Pima County, Arizona; Pueblo of Jemez, New Mexico; and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) that have received grants through Communities Putting Prevention to Work, a program of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  ALR will consult with AAIP in support of its goal of enacting environmental and policy change to prevent obesity in American Indian and Native American communities.

Resources and Publications of Interest

The movement working to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic now has an innovative new tool to help us in our efforts: This interactive site is designed to provide free tools and services to leaders like yourself to help you in your work.  The site includes an interactive, rapidly developing “Map of the Movement” showing where throughout the country there are other leaders working on the issue, as well as people looking to learn more and get engaged.  Click here to add yourself to map. Adding yourself to the map will give you access to a range of free interactive features that can expand your network, such as downloading data on people you want to engage, an analysis on which blogs to target when you have stories or reports you want covered, and tools to engage people through text messaging.  If you have any questions, please email Rebecca Frank at

Recent research conducted in Texas has found that healthy student body mass index (BMI) levels were associated with higher academic performance and attendance and lower delinquency rates, albeit not strongly. The research also found that cardiovascular fitness has low to moderate correlations with higher academic performance and attendance, and with lower delinquency rates. Lead researcher Gregory Welk and colleagues conducted the study, examining associations between health-related fitness and academic performance among Texas school children. They used data from the FITNESSGRAM test that assessed students’ BMI and cardiovascular fitness levels, and academic performance data from the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Despite the relatively weak correlations, the findings do contribute to the growing body of evidence regarding the connection between physical activity and academic performance in children and adolescents.  For example, two recent studies conducted by lead researcher Laura Chaddock found that higher aerobic fitness levels in children are associated with improved cognitive function and complex memory.  Both studies used MRI technology to scan the brains of children aged 9 and 10 years old.  The first study showed that among fit children, parts of the brain important in maintaining attention and coordinating actions and thoughts were larger; and the second study showed that the part of the brain responsible for complex memory was larger in fit children.

Amy Eyler and colleagues published a study analyzing physical education legislation in all 50 states from January 2001 to July 2007.  The study examined trends in bill introduction and compared the extent to which legislation included evidence-based physical education elements.  Results show that although states frequently introduce physical education legislation, proposed bills rarely contain evidence-based elements.

A new book, Preventing Childhood Obesity: Evidence, Policy, and Practice, features the latest research on community and policy interventions to prevent obesity and improve health among children.  Grantees Deborah Cohen and Christine Economos, and ALR colleague Shiriki Kumanyika, director of the African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network, are contributing authors.  The book will be useful to public health practitioners, early childhood professionals, health care providers and clinicians.

John Pucher and colleagues published a study that examined the relationship between active travel and health in 14 countries, all 50 US states, and 47 of the 50 largest US cities.  Results show that active travel such as bicycling and walking is significantly related to lower obesity levels at the national, state, and city level.  At the state and city levels, active travel also is significantly related to higher physical activity levels and to lower diabetes rates.  Pucher (also known as “Car-free John”) gave a presentation of the study in San Diego on August 23 and discussed the findings in a brief video.

John MacDonald and colleagues published a study examining the association of light rail use to commute to work with BMI, obesity, and meeting recommended physical activity levels in Charlotte, N.C. They found that commuting to work by light rail was significantly related to an 81 percent lower likelihood of becoming obese over time.

A new academic journal, Childhood Obesity, will provide health practitioners and educators, community organizers and policy-makers with obesity prevention and treatment strategies that promote environmental and policy changes, patient education and motivation tools, and clinical advances in the field.  The inaugural issue is available free online. The journal was formerly known as Obesity and Weight Management.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) recently held an online discussion regarding the best ways to implement its six new policy priorities to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015.  The Foundation determined the six policies based on their potential to have a major impact on childhood obesity prevalence, the strength of the evidence base, the potential to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, and timeliness and feasibility.  The discussion forum is now closed for additional comments but you can read the contributions that were submitted by RWJF staff, grantees, and others here.  ALR contributes directly to two of the policy priorities: increasing the frequency, intensity and duration of physical activity at school; and improving the built environment in communities.

Newsletter Date: 
Wednesday, September 1, 2010